What Does Privilege Look Like?
What does privilege look like?
The idea of privilege can be sufficiently abstract to cause confusion, a vague, difficult to define concept with a definition so tall and wide as to approach a meaningless infinity.
It may be instructive for us to move beyond theory, and examine privilege in practice.
Privilege is not the idea that human beings with specific attributes--be it skin color, height, or physical appearance--will automatically have easier lives. It just means there´s one less thing for you to worry about.
Privilege functions sort of like a coupon code for one´s payment of consequences.
It is a cushion, a layer of insulation, in some cases a Kevlar vest that can turn what for many would be a fatal injury into a fun story and possibly a few cracked ribs.
Privilege is the plot armor bestowed upon former US soldier Christopher Buckley, featured here in People.
Christopher Buckley was also once a devoted member of the Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Yes, that KKK.
You see, after following his lack of direction into the ranks of the armed forces, Buckley was stationed in Afghanistan, ostensibly to fight a war on terror.
There, he learned to hate Muslims due in part to the efforts of the military, who facilitated an atmosphere of dehumanization by, for example, conducting rifle training using Muslim-themed targets.
Racist speech and ideology was commonplace on the base...somehow, on the wrong side of the planet, Buckley found a safe space where his spiritual rot could flourish in comfort.
Surprisingly, he did not stop being a violent, bigoted thug upon his return to the States.
Finding a receptive welcome for his military background and Islamophobia on the Internet, he eventually submitted an online application to join the Klan. He apparently had the time of his life over the next few years, intoxicating himself with a potent blend of hate, camaraderie, and meth.
Indeed, it was only when his activity in the Ku Klux Fucking Klan began to create social issues for his wife that she staged an intervention...after all, it´s fine to be in the KKK until one is unmasked.
Faced with the prospect of losing one of the few people that still cared for him, Christopher Buckley made the decision to transition away from domestic terrorism with the help of another purportedly reformed white supremacist. A few years later, he was fully restored to his rightful social standing, the stench of an entire adult life spent bathing in wrath and bigotry scrubbed away by good intentions and better PR. Naturally, everyone loves a good redemption arc, and far be it from this writer to say that one less Klansman in the world is not a good thing.
Still, the whole ordeal does bring the question to mind: Would a Muslim kid, slowly radicalized by a lifetime of discrimination in a post 9/11 world, be given thoughtful spaces in publications after debriefing from a domestic branch of ISIS?
Would he be asked to contribute to the conversation on how we can defuse hate in our society?
Would his side have ¨very fine people on it?¨ We both know the answer to those questions...which become even more offensive when you realize which terrorist group has the higher American body count. (hint: it ain´t the one based in Southwest Asia).
Privilege specializes in delivering offense, intended and incidental.
An even clearer example of privilege in American society comes through the spiritual successor to the former Klansman, one Kyle Rittenhouse.
Like Buckley, Kyle Rittenhouse also spent his early years developing dreams of enforcing American exceptionalism.
He chose to focus his efforts on the home front instead, joining his local branch of the Junior Cadets and using his social media presence to express his adolescent admiration for police, policing, and policing policies.
It was all just adorable until his theory turned to practice.
Enabled by his mother (pictured), who gave the 17-year-old a ride across multiple state lines to counterprotest a social justice demonstration one heated fall evening, Rittenhouse (actually!) used his stimulus check to make an illegal third-party purchase of a long gun through a local idiot. The lifelong hall monitor just gave himself one hell of a promotion.
Now, before Kyle Rittenhouse had so much as raised the muzzle of the firearm he used to kill two demonstrators, he´d already committed multiple felonies...but these minor technical transgressions pale before his central sin of taking two lives and permanently altering a third with a few panicked presses of the trigger.
Fast forward through being comforted by the cops in the wake of the incident, producing two million dollars cash for his release, and even given bail when there are those denied any hope of release before trial for far lesser crimes, and we have this face of modern Americana lending his nervously smiling face to a new advertising campaign for...idk, racist coffee or whatever.
This, readers, is what privilege looks like...the next nonwhite kid to bond out on gun charges and within days receive an endorsement deal directly related to his legal issue will be the first.
Hell, NCAA athletes cannot profit from their likenesses and achievements, but their colleges certainly can...as can a teenager who decided to go pro early in the national sport of patriotic violence.
All of these scenarios reflect privilege in its most polished and problematic form.
When the same actions elicit sympathy for the one and scorn for the other, that is what privilege looks like.
When we look to reform certain classes of society while reviling others, that is what privilege looks like.
When a politician begs solemn compassion for their loved ones´ addictions while delivering silent condemnation for others suffering under the same struggle, that is what privilege looks like.
Privilege is not necessarily individual, but structural...there are simply less cracks for some to slip through.
One of the most frustrating elements of privilege is the burden of civility placed on those most forcefully crushed under its boot, the callous denial of an injured party's right to grievance, the delegitimization of righteous anger.
As if the downtrodden had not considered their position underfoot from an intellectual perspective.
I, someone who could easily face real-life repercussions from what the detached most likely see as another lively rhetorical exercise, am supposed to calmly reach out and understand those who would go out of their way to never understand me, who might even provide a rich reward for my violent demise.
That is what privilege looks like.